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How Creative Can You Get?

  |  January 21, 2003   |  Comments

A lack of time and a surfeit of self-criticism are enemies of creativity. Fight them with all you've got.

The twinge begins every other Friday afternoon, several hours after my ClickZ column is submitted. Another column's done... but, looming just ahead, there's another one to be written.

How to deal with the intimidating blank slate, the tabula rasa, the pristine Microsoft Word file?

Get creative.

Once you kick-start your creativity, writing projects flow, you solve sticky problems, and, yes, you develop content for your Web site. This week's column focuses on creativity, because no matter if your site's about software or soft ice cream, creativity is fundamental to the job of creating electronic content.

Everyone is creative -- really! It's just that some act on their ideas and others ignore them -- or even try blocking them. To develop sparkling content, you simply have to unlock that creativity screaming for freedom.

Fear of criticism is an awful impediment to creativity. No one wants to play the fool, and rightly so. Yet, criticism is not always horrible. (You should read some of the emails I receive after posting a column... then again, maybe you shouldn't.) Many times, criticism is actually encouragement accompanied by a few suggestions for making the final product better. I've learned that some of my harshest critics are very bright people who can give me many valuable insights.

Interestingly, many of us are deterred most by self-criticism. Just because we're not "artists" in the traditional sense, we think our imagination is somehow inferior.

Time, too, eats at creativity. Most of us have little time to spare, especially for quiet contemplation or a brainstorming free-for-all. We simply want to get the job done with the least amount of complication. Be honest; when was the last time you finished a project and declared to yourself, "It's completed... and it's my creative best!"

For me, multitasking helps. All those mindless -- but important -- activities are perfect for stirring the creative juices. Morning shower? Formulate a fantastic communications campaign. It sure beats obsessing over the paint peeling on the ceiling. Driving all over town for meetings? Turn off that annoying talk radio station and think through a knotty situation. Waiting for the kids to finish dance lessons? Excuse yourself from the other parents' banter, pull out a piece of paper, and plot out five bright ideas you're eager to pursue. Truth be told, my best thoughts come while drying my hair every morning. The whir of the dryer drowns out children, pets, and even minor household explosions. I can actually hear myself think.

My friend Greg Waskul is a brilliant marketer and national lecturer on creativity. He's masterminded extraordinarily creative press events and engineered hundreds of low-cost, high-impact marketing communications campaigns (the simple postcard is one of his favorite creative palettes). One of Greg's methods is to use a series of "creativity power boosters" that help marketers generate new ideas. Creativity Power Booster Number One involves looking internally for the best -- and unique -- ideas. In other words, don't approach a challenge by asking how your boss or spouse would untangle it. Think how you -- with all your talents and passions -- can achieve a never-before-experienced-on-earth response.

Greg also has some practical boosters for daily creativity workouts:

  • Put your creative goals in writing and carry them with you.

  • Every day, consciously change one habit.

  • Generate at least one new idea a day.

  • Envision your problem solved before you solve it (or your work finished before you pound at the keyboard). Work backwards to achieve your result.

Another good habit is to hold onto creative ideas, even if they don't initially pan out. Let them sit in you notebook, on your laptop, or in the corners of your mind. Go back and visit your "wild idea" file every few weeks. Even wild ideas, when seen from a different perspective, may inspire more practical applications.

In my next column, I'll once again address the nuts-and-bolts issues of content development. But as we begin a new year, it seems fitting to encourage readers to add more creativity into their lives and livelihoods. In the words of the highly imaginative author Ray Bradbury, "Life is trying things to see if they work." Now, go out and have some creative fun.

Don't forget to vote for your favorite marketing technology solutions!

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Susan Solomon

Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.

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